I'm always intrigued, even eager, to see Forbes list of the world's 100 Most Powerful Women, women like Carol Bartz, the new CEO of Yahoo, #12 on the list, and Forbes choice for the cover (see below).
In compiling this list, “Forbes looked for women who run countries (e.g. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany — #1), big companies (e.g. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo — #2) or influential nonprofits (e.g. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, Chairman of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — #30). Rankings are a combination of two scores: visibility–by press mentions–and the size of the organization or country these women lead.”
I love that these women have formal power. They may ‘speak softly‘; people listen regardless. They also carry a ‘big stick', or the wherewithal, typically financial heft, to put their words into action.
Wielding formal power, especially for women — given that we learn from a young age that women are only feminine when we are giving something to someone else — is hard. I want to do this better; we need to do this better. There are policies that won't be implemented, business concepts that won't get funded, wrongs that won't be
righted, until we do.
That said, does Forbes‘ list provide a full portrait of power?
What of informal power — the kind of power described as “no one knows exactly what someone does, but when they are around things magically work”?
Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Ted Kennedy's 2nd wife, has been described as the woman who tamed the last lion of the Senate. She didn't show up on any lists. But was she able to influence and shape outcomes? Likely so.
It would be a potential tough sell for Forbes to compile a list of the 100 Women with the Most Informal Power. Plus, once you name informal power as Michael Lewis did with Shane Battier, it's no longer quite so informal.
List or no list, learning to wield informal power is important. Ideally we'll always have a big stick, but as Richard Conniff wrote in Workplace Lessons from Women sometimes we need to just make things work because they need to (credit or not) and/or all we have is our ability to speak softly. This is especially true with our children. Big sticks work while they are young. If we want a relationship as they move into adulthood, big sticks are best broken.
Formal power. Informal power.
Speak softly. Big stick.
We need both.
We're already pretty good at one.
Let's now learn to do the other.
And really get something done.
What are your thoughts?
Shall we create a ‘dare to dream' list of 100 Women with the Most Informal Power? How fun would that be?